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How would you design an exhibit? Meeting Part 2 - the day

By: Jennifer Miller, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 27 Aug 2010

The second post about designing an exhibit. Twenty students and their teachers arrived on 23 August to help the Museum design their up and coming Birds of Paradise exhibit. What a wonderful day for all of us! Read on to find out what happened during the workshop.

School children participate in workshop

Jennifer Miller © Australian Museum

As I had hoped, this workshop blended perfectly with the two contrasting schools. Both schools had amazing things to say and such original ideas, and opened some of the shyer of students, hopefully giving them more confidence in their abilities.

That was Amazing!

The day opened with an ice-breaker, each of the teachers, or Museum staff, told the class something that they found amazing:

  • I spoke about my experience with falconry
  • Fara spoke about getting caught and soaked during a camping trip
  • Susan described her husband being wrapped up in clingwrap during her week-long birthday celebration in Italy

We then talked about amazing things in our groups. Some of these stories were incredible!! 

  • One student spoke about her trip to Petra
  • another about hiking in Pakistan
  • one student at my table described seeing an active volcano in New Zealand!

The point of this exercise was not only to break the ice, but to move into the amazing-ness of the birds of paradise.

When we were shown a video of dances some birds do, the students got excited, drumming with the rap music that followed along the birds dancing or laughing at some of the feather displays. I think the film was a bit short though as they were just getting excited and then it ended.

Breaking off

The primary question the museum wanted to ask was about text. So, the group was divided in half (two groups of 10). One went into the collection to see some of the birds that may be in the exhibit, the other half went into the Surviving Australia exhibit to look for things that they liked as well as for those they didn’t. What they didn’t like was probably more important than what they did like.

Into the Collections

I was with the group who went in to the collection first. This was interesting, because of the closeness of the storage files (which is a beautiful storage facility!), and because they couldn’t touch much, they were a bit quiet and shy. Though some did get brave enough to touch the birds when they were invited to.

Exhibit review

The students were more active wandering around the Surviving Australia exhibit. It was fun to hear what some of them had to say or even dared each other to do, such as holding their hand in the Thylacene’s mouth for 10 seconds.

Text talk

Getting back together, they were definitely more energized! The conversation began about the things they did and did not like about the exhibit:

  • “I like the big letters, skipped the small letters.”
  • “Text that moved with the shape…interesting.”
  • “Really liked the 3-D structures, if it was 2D, people would just pass it.”
  • “Signs are really catchy, really informative, would like more animals.”

A couple of suggestions about the text in the exhibit were:

  • “You can make it [text] simple because people’s English may not be so good.”
  • “Don’t place them [text] in rows.”

Editorial Review

Then we worked in groups to look through booklets that are currently being used at other museums and pretty much ripped into them, looking at what they didn’t like, what they did like and if they would even use them. For the most part, it appeared that they would use a booklet but there was a theme throughout much of what was said:

  • Should be able to write in them
  • Engaging activities
  • Questions that made you think
  • Simple writing

After looking at a text sample for the Birds of Paradise exhibit, some of the thoughts included:

  • Too complicated (particular if the reader is new to English)
  •  Might prefer pictures rather than descriptions

Honesty is always good

What really got me was the student from the boys' school who got up to thank us. I was impressed with his sincere concern mixed with much gratitude. His primary concern was the amount of dead birds, and the dead birds that were shown to them. He at one point associated it with sacrilege, but he understood that these were collected quite some time ago and did hold appreciation for what the Museum was trying to accomplish. I was greatly impressed with his honesty.

Final thoughts...

This was a really fun day and it really did look like these kids understood what they were contributing to and were vested in the end results. I wish I could come and see the exhibit and when the kids come back to review it for themselves. Will they see their efforts? Will they like it? What a great program for kids to get involved into something with public results, where they can make a difference when in other situations in their lives, they might never have been heard.

About Jennifer

1 comment

Lynda Kelly - 1.08 PM, 31 August 2010

Thanks for these notes Jennifer. I'll be keen to see what the project team does with the findings from the day.

For those interested, go here for more about the Coalition of Knowledge Buiding Schools and the Australian Museum. On the upper right-hand side are links to previous Kids' Colleges we have run.

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